Relationships in Medical School

Medical school has the reputation of being a long and lonely road. You’ll spend a lot of time by yourself studying, but is it really as isolating as it sounds? Actually, medical school is just like any school in the sense that it’s a place where you can meet new people and make memories with them.
Bianca Villanueva

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August 15, 2022

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Bianca

Bianca Villanueva

Bianca is a medical intern at the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health in the Philippines. She is a BS Psychology graduate, currently working on her double degrees in MD and MBA.

In this article, we’re going to talk about the relationships you’ll be encountering in medical school. Of course, everyone will have their own experience. As an extrovert, I enjoy being around people, but even if you are an introvert, there are good reasons to make friends. While you can get through medical school on your own, part of what made all the hard times bearable were the relationships I built with other people.

Making Friends in Medical School

When I entered my medical school, I felt like a new student. It was uncomfortable because I only knew one person, and almost everyone around me came from the same college and pre-med program. I was worried everyone would form cliques and the possibility of making friends would fly out the window. However, I was determined to step out of my comfort zone because this was the school I wanted to be at.

I didn’t think I was there to make friends… but in life’s funny way of turning things around, med school was where I met some of my closest friends for life.

Of course, making friends in medical school is not as easy as in high school or college. Many of us are adults with our own preferences. So naturally, we’re pickier about who we spend our very limited time with. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make friends in medical school, though. Having a support system has been shown to decrease academic difficulties and increase self-esteem. Friends will come naturally because the stress of medical school brings people closer together, but it can also pull people apart.

So, let’s go through a few tips for making friends during your hectic adventure in medical school.

Tips for making friends in medical school

  • Be kind and a good groupmate. There will be many opportunities to work with everyone in your class and around the school. A lot of people you meet in medical school are go-getters. They appreciate efficiency more than anything, and when you’re easy to work with, it’ll be easier for people to like you.
  • If you’re an introvert, I suggest making friends when you’re comfortable. There will be a lot of opportunities to make friends, even after cliques are formed. So, don’t feel pressured to join groups just for the sake of it.
  • Medical school is full of a wide variety of people, and you shouldn’t try to please all of them. Your time is too limited for that. Stick with the people who help you grow as a person. Your friends in school should make you feel like a better student and doctor.
  • Join extracurricular activities. Most schools have organizations and projects. People with similar interests tend to cluster together and you’ll definitely find one you like. You can even join your school’s leadership councils. This is a great chance to find that group of people who share your  interests.
  • Participate in social activities. Medical students know how to work hard and many party even harder, if that’s what they enjoy. If not, you can join study groups, or just groups who share an interest of yours. For example, I have a group of friends who enjoy K-pop and another group that enjoys online gaming. There will always be people with similar interests as you.
  • It’s about more than just making friends, you also need to make time for them. Maintaining your friendships sounds like a lot of work, but you’ll find it fulfilling when they’re people you enjoy being around. Study, go out to eat, or just talk to them.

Friends outside of medical school

Studying medicine day in and out can be tiring. Many of us get sick of it over time. When that happens, I usually turn to my friends who aren’t in medical school. While no one understands the struggle of a medical student better than a fellow medical student, keeping in touch with other friends can remind you that there’s more to life than medicine. As you connect with the friends you’ve kept over the years, you’ll be more grounded to the world outside of the hospital. Even on your busiest weeks, find time to meet with your other friends, regardless of their field.

My own best friends are an architect and a teacher, and because we don’t always relate to each other in terms of work, we’re connected by something deeper than shared careers. Meeting with them has always been refreshing, and not just because I genuinely enjoy their company. When I tell them about my experiences in medical school, they know how to cheer me on or convince me to take a break. In a way, they make me want to become a better doctor, too.

Dating in Medical School

I get this question a lot from people entering medical school and from underclassmen. Many of them think that medical school will steal all their time for friends and dating. Some people even break up with their significant others before they enter medical school, and that’s okay because it’s all about what your priorities are. But there are ways to balance the two.

There are a lot of different people in medical school, and they all have different romantic needs. I’ve seen people manage with active dating lives, long-term relationships, relationships within the same class, and even long-distance relationships. But, like any relationship, it can get messy.

How do you handle relationships in medical school?

You must invest a lot of time and effort in your partner, which can be hard when you want to focus on your studies. When you do have free time, you’re usually too tired to spend time with them. So what can you do?

Compromise.

Different people have different needs and you need to tailor your time together based on those needs.

I’ve had trouble trying to make time for my partner (even though we’re both from the same medical school). However, I learned that there were some things that mattered more to me than my studies. Eventually, I learned that things get a bit easier to do when you’re with the right person. Our dates are study dates, our dinners are limited to take-out food after rotations, and most of our downtime is spent asleep. It’s not the most romantic arrangement, but this is the middle ground we’re both happy with.

You can also do something that isn’t medicine-related to show that you’re also willing to make time for them and only them. It can be big things like a trip together, or something small like exercising or playing games together. Sure, it sacrifices some study time, but a little adjustment in your schedule is worth the time you spend with them.

Can I date someone outside of medical school?

Of course you can! Many people will tell you that it’s hard, and speaking from personal experience, I would agree. When you’re dating a med student, they will know what you’re going through in med school. People who aren’t from medical school will have a hard time understanding how you prioritize your time. There will be misunderstandings and you’ll see each other a lot less; and some couples even end up breaking up because of med school.

So in these situations, communication is key. If you genuinely want to be with someone, you’ll do what it takes to make it work. Set realistic expectations and priorities early with your partner. Adapt to each other’s needs as time goes by. It won’t be easy, but don’t let the idea of hardship stop you from being with someone you love.

Other Relationships in Medical School

It’s not all about friendships and intimate relationships. There are other relationships in Medical School that can add to your support system:

  • Mentors – Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, this relationship is important for the growth of both parties. Spend time with your mentor because they can give you valuable insights into surviving medical school and beyond.
  • Professors – These doctors take time off their schedules to teach and guide you through your journey in medicine. Some can be inspiring, and some… not so much. But the former are good sources of inspiration and wisdom. They’re the kinds of role models that make you want to learn more about medicine, instead of forcing yourself through your readings.
  • Co-workers – When you start going to the hospitals, you will find a whole community of specialties. The nurses and allied health professionals play a key role in medicine. Studies show that working alongside them can teach students mutual respect and how to work more efficiently when they become doctors. I don’t know how many times I had to rely on nurses to help me, but I will forever be grateful for their kindness as co-workers.
  • Other students – There are students outside your class that you will eventually work with. Upper years, lower years, organization members, even students from other courses are great places to find friends and build your support system. Upper year students can give you tips on how to get through various classes while lower year students can be an opportunity for you to teach them.
  • Family – For many of us, they’re still part of our medical school journey. They’re there to cheer us on, comfort us on tough days, and remind us who we were before we decided we wanted to become doctors. When I failed my first exam, I broke down because everyone I knew did well. Honestly, I thought I didn’t belong in medical school. My family was the first to tell me that I deserved to be where I was, despite falling a bit short that one time.

A Final Word

Your medical school experience is more than the four corners of the classroom. It’s also the people, inside and outside of it. I can’t emphasize enough how important a support system is, because it really does take a village to raise a doctor. You don’t need to have all the types of relationships we talked about, but when you (and you will) have tough days when you doubt yourself, it’s a lot easier when you feel like you’re not alone.

Of course, there are some things you need to do on your own. Your support system can’t pass your exams or treat your patients for you, but they help you grow and you’re there to help them grow, too. It takes some time and effort, but I assure you that it will be worth it to know that someone somewhere in your life will always be cheering for you.

Further Reading

A Medical Student’s Mental Health

On my first day of medical school, we were told that “medical school is a marathon, not a sprint.” What makes med school so stressful and what can you do about it?

Medical School Survival Guide

Getting into medical school and thriving within your program involves careful steps and helpful tricks. Lecturio has a great starting point for success: our Medical School Survival Guide.

Common Myths about Medical School

Is medical school all it’s cracked up to be? Time to dispel some common myths!

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